Yesterday, I couldn’t stop my mind from circling in obsessive loops, my heart raced, and I couldn’t take in a full breath. I’ve grown enough to know that my trauma had been triggered. Sometimes I can pinpoint what caused the trauma, but, a lot of times, I just don’t know what sparked it. For example, after my daughter told me that a boy in her class showed her his private part without her consent, I spent three days in a state similar to the one I described above; I knew that I was triggered, and I knew that I had been triggered because what she told me released the same stress response as the sexual trauma I experienced growing up.
Because I experienced trauma to my body, like sexual and physical violence, I experience it through my body. That said, even trauma that is not experienced by the body—emotional abuse, etc.—is experienced in the body. When traumatic events occur, our reptilian brain is activated, and we go into fight, flight, or freeze (I usually go into freeze, as is typical of victims of sexual assault). We are then disconnected from our emotions and our logical, intelligent brain. The emotions and thoughts we experience around the traumatic event are stored in our muscles, and manifest themselves in various ways over time.
In other words, we try our best to detach, but we can’t. We remain in denial, but our bodies and minds are in a perpetual state of discomfort. This is why I think most victims of trauma become addicts and alcoholics: all of this stored emotional and intelligent information won’t go away until we commit to healing it. We use drugs and alcohol in order to assuage the symptoms. Some might say that their solution (drugs and alcohol) helps them not to feel, while others might say that it helps them to feel anything at all. Whatever the case, our coping mechanism and solution further deepens the trauma: the more we drink and drug, the easier it is to repress the trauma, the more the trauma haunts us.
When my PTSD is triggered and activated, I recognize it almost immediately—it is in my mind, my body, and my spirit. My mind is stuck, my thoughts are circling or going down endless negative tangents. My body is tense, I feel like every muscle is clenching to the bone, and I can’t breath (freeze). My spiritual life is dependent on a working mind and body; without these two things, it’s difficult to find a creative, soulful nourishing connection to a higher power and my community.
I’ve come up with my own solution as to how to bring balance in between my mind, body, and spirit. I try to find ways to get into my body, usually by doing very gentle yoga poses at home in which I connect my breath to body movement. I might go for a walk with my dog around the lake and count my breaths with each step. I find it more difficult for me to ease my mind, but it’s definitely easier once I feel like I’ve inhabited my body. One solution I’ve found that tends to help is to get out of my own head and listen to others: I’ll talk to my neighbors, call a friend, listen to a podcast, or watch a stand up special. My therapist practices cognitive behavioral therapy and she recently gave me another solution to help with my circular brain patterning. She reminded me that the patterns I have imprinted on my brain, neural pathways, were set long ago, but that I can actually change them. She suggested that when this feedback loop starts, that I change the negative thought with a new thought. (My old solution was to tell my brain to stop; that doesn’t work, she told me!)
As my body and mind become more in harmony, then I can begin the spiritual work of healing through creativity. My body and mind are telling me something wants to be expressed, revealed, and exposed. Once I stop fighting, and I allow the pain to surface through creativity I can finally feel a connection to pure life, love, and being—balance and wholeness.
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